Scummy Man Review
Scummy Man in its DVD form represents a curious package. Spun-off from the music video for the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ single, it’s a story told from three different angles. Almost Rashomon-like you could say, except the events stay the same. The story of fifteen-year-old prostitute and junkie Nina (Lauren Socha), and her pimp/rough customer played by Stephen Graham, the “scummy man” of the title (and the song’s lyrics), their relationship is played out in the 15-minute short Scummy Man, the attendant five-minute short Just Another Day and said promo, totalling just over three minutes.
So whilst Scummy Man is the main event, it’s the video for ‘Where the Sun Goes Down’ which many will have seen first. And to the possible disappointment of the potential buyer, it’s also the most potent. Without dialogue and edited to a more frenetic pace than either of the short films, it relies primarily on two things: the lyrics to the song and the atmosphere it can generate over its brisk running time. With regards to the latter this means grit, pure and simple; the subject matter, the disc’s 15-certificate (strong language in both song dialogue), all point towards an overall bleakness of vision. There’s clearly no happy ending, though the manner in which the promo has been edited doesn’t necessarily encourage ideas of a linear narrative. Rather we make our own associations, picking up on snatched lyrics and hints and clues from the images fusing them into our own portrait of a teenaged prostitute.
Handily, such an approach allows us to dodge the less enticing aspects, namely Rowe David McClellan’s taxi driver and Andrew Turner’s amateur magician – the latter, in particular, seeming a wilful addition, there to brighten up the story perhaps? However, whilst they may not make perfect sense in promo, their presence does lead us to expect something from the shorts. And certainly, gaps are filled and a more straightforward narrative does emerge from these two companion films, each one tweaked in a slightly different direction courtesy of the material they choose to either conceal or reveal. McClellan has something of George C. Scott from Hardcore about him (and indeed another Paul Schrader creation, cinema’s most famous taxi driver Travis Bickle), a benign figure hoping to see Nina straight. Turner, meanwhile, remains somewhat enigmatic, targeted by Graham under his capacity as a ‘talent manager’, his place in the story is still unclear. Maybe he is there, after all, just to brighten things up with a bit of low-rent colour and bit of comedy, though he too ultimately contributes to the bleakness.
Nonetheless Scummy Man feels more at home as a short film than those vaguely forgotten (if they were ever truly remembered) long-form promos, Mantrap and Jazzin’ for Blue Jean, which Julien Temple made with ABC and David Bowie respectively. Admittedly, I have a fondness for both, but only with a certain ironic distance – the kitsch factor, needless to say, is high in both cases. And kitsch isn’t a word which you’d use in conjunction with Scummy Man. In part this may be because, in contrast to the Temple efforts, the Arctic Monkeys themselves don’t feature in any prominent capacity. However, I’m more inclined to believe that the key personnel both in front of and behind the camera are more integral.
As writer and director we find Paul Fraser who's had a noteworthy working relationship with Shane Meadows earning himself some kind of screenwriting credit on all of his features thus far. As such he never shies away from the darker aspects of the material, plus he seems to have inherited Meadows’ knack for drawing out realistic turns from his cast. Graham, you could argue, doesn’t really need the help being one of the UK’s best-kept acting secrets despite having worked with everyone from Christopher Eccleston (Sticks and Stones) to Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York). The revelation, then, is Socha, perfectly embodying both the dead-eyed ambivalence to her plight and the youthful arrogance that comes with her age. She’s certainly a more conceivable teen prostitute than Kelly MacDonald was in Stella Does Tricks, fine film though that was.
Sadly, McClelland and Tuner aren’t quite able to match Socha in the acting stakes, though this may very well come down to the material. Despite being spread over two shorts and a promo, the tale of Nina and this “scummy man” never quite takes hold. At a total of no more than 25 minutes (with plenty of overlap) we’re still confronted with sketchy elements and a tendency to rush when a more considered pace would reap the rewards. In other words Scummy Man probably needs to be nearer a feature-length project than it does an extended promo. The talent’s certainly there – and they’re not doing anything wrong besides not quite fulfilling the potential. And so even if we never see Nina, et al brought to the big screen we can at least look forward to Socha and Fraser the director hopefully making a greater impact in the future.
Given its length, it is hardly surprising to find Scummy Man perfectly accommodated by a single-layered disc. All three pieces come from fine sources and look to be in excellent condition. There is no print damage to speak of, nor any issues to be had with the disc’s manufacture, technical flaws being at an absolute minimum in terms of edge enhancement, artefacting and the rest. However, all three pieces do come with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and this has not been met with anamorphic enhancement – a disappointing oversight. Nonetheless, there are no other problems to speak of with the soundtrack (DD2.0 in all cases) being equally impressive. As a final touch there are also optional subtitles in the following languages: English, German and French.